Parishes around the Trenton Diocese, especially those along the coast, served as hubs of prayer and protection opening their churches for Masses, their social halls as shelters and their parking lots at safe harbor for scores of cars before, during and after the pelting rain and winds of Hurricane Irene struck the area.
As Irene, the first hurricane to make landfall in New Jersey in more than 100 years approached, clergy and staff prepared for the ways in which a direct hit could affect not only parishioners but the community at large. Thankfully, the destruction, though severe for many in the community at large, would largely spare parishioners and parish facilities from great harm.
Many pastors contacted for this story sounded the same notes as Father John J. Scully, pastor of St. Clement Parish, Matawan, in reporting downed trees, lost power and a prayerful response to the storm from parishioners, but no grave problems as a result.
Saturday night Mass was “packed” with parishioners , he said. But by the next day, attendance was marginal at the early Masses and “up to 56 people by the time the hurricane passed. We had a lot of people who lost power and had quite a few trees down. But the church never lost power,” Father Scully said.
A number of neighbors, he said, used the church parking lot to keep their cars safe from trees which did fall in the winds of the storm.
Members of other parishes were more directly impacted by Irene.
One of the first parishes to gear up for the storm was St. Maximilian Kolbe, Berkeley Township, where membership is comprised predominantly of senior citizens.
A designated municipal shelter, the parish would welcome 25 adults to safety during the hurricane.
Days after the storm, parish secretary Diane Holz described how the relief effort there was coordinated by Berkeley Township police officers with assistance from numerous businesses throughout the township which donated paper goods, other supplies, food, water and snacks which “helped those who came for shelter get through a stressful situation.”
In the low-lying East Keansburg section of Middletown, Father Daniel C. Hesko recalled how Aug. 27, the day the storm arrived, began with the “fire company going through town telling people that a mandatory evacuation was in effect for the area.
“I offered a 5 p.m. Mass that was very well attended and announced there would be no Masses on Sunday morning,” said Father Hesko. “We offered special prayers after Mass for safety and protection and commended ourselves to the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Like other pastors throughout the diocese, Father Hesko decided to remain in the church rectory, “a good two story brick building and ride out the storm. Although we are less than a quarter mile from the Raritan Bay, we had no water damage at all to the parish facility.”
By Sunday morning, though, the town was very flooded, he said, and most streets were closed.
“The biggest annoyance was the loss of power. Thank God we had a generator. The only parish loss was the cold food from the St. Vincent DePaul Society pantry.”
By Tuesday, several parishioners had pooled together to restock the food and several people whose households were flooded, were able to avail themselves of emergency clothing,” Father Hesko said.
Need remained great for many people even after the storm cleared.
Indeed, St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, received a call for help for help four days after Irene had moved on.
On Sept. 1, the parish responded to a request from the Monmouth County Office of Emergency Management to provide meals for those still suffering the effects of the storm in the Bayshore area.
Father Daniel A. Swift, the pastor, asked the St. Vincent DePaul Society to coordinate the operation. Chapter President Patti Dickens oversaw a crew of volunteers who put together 540 meals that would be delivered to the Atlantic Highlands Senior Center on Sept. 2 for distribution during the storm. Father Swift (who authorized the use of $1,000 in parish funds for the effort) had high praise for those who prepared and donated the food and those who transferred the food into carry containers.
Tweet this story[[In-content Ad]]